Wednesday, 14 May 2014

What the Columnists Say

Published in Roundup of Columnists

Prime Minister Erdoğan’s leadership style is the subject of many comments. Eyüp Can in Radikal claims that Erdoğan wants to become Turkey’s second founding father after Atatürk. He observes that Turkey does not need another “father” who would rule with an iron fist, and that the country is too diverse for such an attempt to succeed. Murat Belge in Taraf, meanwhile, points to the societal foundations of Erdoğan’s ambitions. He suggests that the lack of democratic culture among the rural bourgeoisie that is the main force behind AKP sustains the drive to impose a majoritarian system. Meanwhile, Yüksel Taşkın in Taraf sees hope emerging that the urban bourgeoisie – the Kemalists – is going to promote democratic values, as this would conform to its class interests.


Gülay Göktürk in Bugün writes that the tradition that requires the state establishment to be present at the anniversaries of the high judiciary has come to be abused by the representatives of the judiciary who regularly use these occasions to hector the former. They get the wrong idea about their own standing and about their place in the hierarchy of the state. So for this reason, presidents, prime minister, the chiefs of the General staff and cabinet ministers should no longer participate at these occasions. From this year on, this tradition should be abandoned. Let the judiciary celebrate its anniversaries alone. And about the reaction of the prime minister to being hectored at the anniversary of the state council: yes, Erdogan became very irritated; and by the way, I would have been irritated as well. Some may prefer men of state who have a poker-face, who never show their emotions. For my part, I like rulers who don’t hide their emotions. Let’s admit that we have a prime minister who has a short temper; but on the other hand, there are so many who do their best to annoy him…


Eyüp Can in Radikal writes that Tayyip Erdoğan wants to become the second founding father of the Turkish republic, after Atatürk. The problem is that as Turkey is trying to rid itself of one founding ideology, a second one is being introduced. That is why Erdoğan wants to change the system; that is why he insists on a presidential system. He wants to become the second founding father of the republic. However, in this century Turkey needs neither another founding father that would rule with an iron fist, nor a founding ideology that is informed by a unique world view. There is both religion and secularism in Turkey’s mix; there are Turks as well as Kurds; Alevis as well as Sunnis; Kemalists as well as Naqshibandis; liberals as well as socialists. We are either going to erect a system that turns them all into free and equal citizens, that protects the individual against the state, that creates space for opposing views, or we’ll impose a majoritarian democracy in the name of a new founding father/ideology. Is it going to work just because it’s imposed? It may appear so for a while, but if the notion had really been feasible, then the founding ideology that was developed in order to sustain military tutelage in the name of Atatürkism would still be standing. As the founder of the republic, Atatürk is still standing, but the ideology that was developed in his name has crumbled.


Murat Belge in Taraf notes that the bourgeoisie has generally grown stronger in Turkey, both the “big bourgeoisie” that was fostered by the republic and the rural, “middle bourgeoisie.” Historically, the problem has been that the former never felt the pressure to become an agent for democracy; but this bourgeoisie nonetheless understood that membership in the European Union requires democracy, and did not object, understanding that this did not represent any inconvenience for it. It is different with the rural bourgeoisie; I don’t think that they are as flexible when it comes to internalizing democracy. They are defined by a paternalistic, conservative ideology. I think this is one of the things that sustains Tayyip Erdoğan’s blatant attempt to create a majoritarian regime; I guess that some among the rural bourgeoisie fear that Erdoğan’s confrontational style is going to hurt their business interests, but these paternalistic conservatives are hardly moved to be concerned that the system that is being put in place is inimical to democracy. There is a long way to go before those who say “how can one live in such a regime” constitute the majority.


Oral Çalışlar in Radikal comments the recent changes of the Central Committee of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). These changes demonstrate that Kılıçdaroğlu (the leader of the CHP) intends to put his stamp on the party. They can be seen as an expression of self-criticism after the results of the March 30 municipal elections. But what about the policies of the party? Looking at the names that are left in the leadership after the reshuffle, we note that the traditional ideological balance within the party is very much protected. One of the defining features of the CHP – we may call it an advantage or a disadvantage – is that those who wouldn’t normally stand each other are kept together. The presence of these opposing poles creates problems, disabling the party from laying out a clear path. It affects how it deals with the Kurdish issue, with democratization. Rather than creating dynamism, these polarities put the party in impossible fixes. For how long are tendencies that don’t belong together going to be held together? And how much serious thought is given within the CHP to its recent election tactic? A major opposition party based its election tactic entirely on the tapes provided by the parallel structure. Is the CHP giving any thought to what Turkey would have looked like today if the government had been brought down with such tactics?


Yüksel Taşkın in Taraf writes that the Kemalists need to become more civilian in order to wield political influence. The fact that more than 90 percent voted in Istanbul in the recent municipal elections shows that the Kemalists have indeed understood the importance of using the ballot box to achieve political change. Since the 1990s, the Kemalists had embraced an isolationist, reactionary form of nationalism in reaction to the rise of political Islam and the Kurds’ aspirations. But this nationalism does not correspond to the material interests of the Kemalists. The great majority of them and especially their children are taking advantage of the material benefits of globalization. Although it is a fact that the “moderns” have lost their politically privileged position, they have compensated this loss in economic terms. The isolationist neo-nationalism is not in tune with their class interests. The moderns need to adopt a more universal discourse. In fact, there is a funny paradox at work: as the AKP is becoming more inward-looking, the Kemalists are forced to resort to talking more about universal rights and liberties. The Gezi protests were an important experience in this regard; the Kemalist youth became aware that there are similar struggles being fought both in the West and in our own region. They started to realize that they need national and global allies. Life is whispering to the Kemalists that they should rekindle their leftist-populist traditions from the 1970s.

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The Turkey Analyst is a publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Joint Center, designed to bring authoritative analysis and news on the rapidly developing domestic and foreign policy issues in Turkey. It includes topical analysis, as well as a summary of the Turkish media debate.


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